Google takes on Baskin Robins?
By Tom McKinney
Earlier this month, Google announced Froyo. Yes, you heard it here first! Google is getting into the frozen yogurt industry, but I kid. Froyo is the codename for Google's forthcoming update to their Android mobile operating system. This will be version 2.2. Before I get into the potential groundbreaking this update could bring, let me bring you up to speed with Google and its mobile products.
Android was first announced on November 5, 2007, alongside the founding of the Open Handset Alliance - a coalition of 65 hardware, software, and telecom companies, all with the goal of advancing open standards for mobile devices. Less than a year after that first announcement, the first phone to run Android was released. The day preceding the hardware's release, Google made the system's code available as open source, and has been available since then.
Google's Android is often compared to Apple's iPhone. One of Android's first major carriers in the US was Verizon, and their teaser ad at the time of the first release was actually a parody of Apple ads. The two companies differ in their approaches, however.
Apple, as is their way, designs both hardware and software. Their software is not open source. And it has rules that limit content in their App Store, the one place to get apps unless your iPhone is jailbroken (hacked).
Google, for the most part, designs software, a la Microsoft, and then sells the software to a variety of third party hardware companies. They have made their own Google-branded handset, known as the Google Nexus One, but it did not enjoy the success hoped for. A second Google Nexus phone has been discussed and rumored but not revealed.
Both companies have been very successful with their efforts on the mobile front. Apple has a strong product line ranging from the iPhone to iPod Touch to iPad. And Google meanwhile, has been making headlines. It started first with a report by NPD that gave Fortune Magazine motivation to entitle an article, "Android demolishing iPhone in sales." Then, it held it's Google I/O conference in San Francisco, and announced a few things: the creation of a new open-source, royalty-free video file format, known as the WebM Project; plans to work with Sony to bring Google to TV; and of course, Android 2.2, Froyo.
Google takes on Baskin Robins?
Froyo running on a Google Nexus One.
The new operating system update looks to be significant for a couple reasons. Up until now, Apple has set the standard for touchscreen, mobile devices. Virtually everyone else made knockoffs and imitations. But Google has gone and announced features that a) have been asked for on the iPhone, and b) still are not available for it. For once, Apple is playing catch-up. This main feature is the capability to view and use Flash content.
Since the first iPhone came out, consumers have been asking for the ability to use Flash. Steve Jobs has resisted, and the topic became a sore spot for Apple and Adobe. There is an emerging war of video formats, Apple and Microsoft backing HTML5 and the royalty-encumbered H.264 codec (it's how YouTube runs on iPhones & iPads when the rest of the world sees YouTube as Flash). Google's just announced their plans to develop a new video format, and teamed up with established web browser makers Mozilla and Opera, it's guaranteed to be a force to be reckoned with. But before Google's WebM format is available, they've already made the shift to allow Android phones running Froyo to run Flash.
Depending on the success of having Flash on mobile devices, Apple may or may not have to respond. Many flash applications are just that, applications, rather than video, and those applications require interaction. Up until now, Flash has never been used on touchscreen devices, so the flash apps and games that run so well on computers where we have a keyboard and mouse may prove to be a significantly different experience using a touchscreen. Either way, for Android users to have the option of viewing and using Flash content is a big step in the right direction. Only time will tell if the interface is suitable, and if Google figured out a way to solve the problem of battery life.
The other significant change Froyo brings is tethering; that is, turning your phone into a mobile wi-fi hotspot. So if you happened to buy the wi-fi only iPad from Apple, but also had a Google phone, you could connect to the Internet that way. Or if you're at a lunch where people are using laptops, this single device could provide wireless Internet access to everyone.
While Google didn't necessarily come up with the ideas of tethering or Flash compatibility (iPhone users have been wanting them since day 1), they are the first to take steps to address those issues. And while I favor Apple, I'm glad of the competition Google's actions will foster, and looking forward to the next generation of mobile computing.